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casual connect magazine Разработчики, Developers, Ontwikkelaars

Official magazine prepared for the Casual Games Association Casual Connect™ - the Casuality Conference series in Kiev, Seattle & Amsterdam and the Minna Magazine are all part of Casual Connect™ series of services – same thing, exciting new branding.


Letter from the Director

Jessica Tams

It’s All About the Fun

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begin with a confession: Everything important I know about game programming I learned from Scott Bilas. All of those times I have helped someone with an engineering issue—how to set up a network, what productivity tools to use, how to set up a development environment, how to debug—yep, all that I got from Scott. There—I’ve said it, and I feel liberated already. Scott and I happened to be on the same engineering team at Sierra Online, working on a game called Gabriel Knight III. The Gabriel Knight series was hugely successful, due in no small part to the fact that even with Gabriel Knight’s mature themes it wasn’t a typical “guy’s game.” It turned out that women loved the mystery story contained in the Gabriel Knight series. Anyway, for Version III, it was decided that Gabriel Knight needed to be more competitive technically, and that it should take advantage of new technology—which is to say that we were told to make it 3D. But with 3D came an enormous budget and extended development, and you can probably guess the rest.

In fact, it couldn’t hurt to repeat it like a mantra: “It’s all about the fun. It’s all about the fun.” The rest of the gaming industry is coming around to that idea too, and in the end the whole world will be a bit more casual. Perhaps then they’ll come to us with a confession of their own: That we in the casual games industry really did know what we were doing all along. In this issue about development, you’ll find an interesting selection of articles written by people who have been there, done that, including a virtual braindump from my personal expert, Scott Bilas himself. I hope you find it all as instructive as I have.

Sincerely,

Jessica

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While the consumers loved the story—which is what made the Gabriel Knight series great—we learned the hard way that it is often a mistake to add functionality just because you can. We spent big bucks and untold development hours creating incredible 3D worlds that half our audience found confusing to navigate. We even created what we now refer to as the Million-Dollar Button.

As casual games begin to stretch their traditional boundaries and reach new and bigger audiences—and as development and promotional budgets grow accordingly—it’s a good idea to revisit those hard-earned lessons of the past, to commit them to memory and share them with our teams as if they were the Legends of our Forefathers. If we find ourselves once again focusing on features and complexity at the expense of basic game-play, then shame on us. We should know better.

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casual connect magazine Разработчики, Developers, Ontwikkelaars

About the Cover

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hen we were looking for a cover for the Fall issue of the CGA Magazine, Joe Kresoja immediately came to mind. Not only is Joe a brilliant painter (as you can see from the cover image), he is one of the most talented concept and 3D artists in the gaming industry. We first met Joe in early 2000 while he was making monsters and dragons for an RPG at Gas Powered Games—but what really caught our attention was the depth of his personal portfolio. If you like what you see on the cover, you can see more of Joe’s recent work at: www.kresoja.com

Contents Letter from the Director 2006 Casual Games Market Highlights Scheduling Creativity Core Values of the Casual Industry

6 Jennifer Bullard 9 Ethan Clark 12

10 Reasons Women Like Casual Games Contract Basics

Sheri Pocilujko 23

Download Size Doesn’t Matter

Vinny Carrella 29

Official magazine prepared for the Casual Games Association

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Jessica Tams 2

Michael Mei 27


Casual Games Association

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t has been an exciting year for casual games—not only have they become the subject of mainstream news articles in 2006, but large investors have become interested in the space with greater fervor than ever. The buzz is not surprising, of course. We have known for some time that more people play casual games than any other type of electronic game. It’s just that the rest of the world is finally discovering what we already knew. As these ever-more-popular casual games continue to attract new fans, it seems appropriate to take a step back and review what we have accomplished in 2006 as an industry. In this summary, we have included research data from the online casual games space collected from a variety of large casual game portals representing approximately half of the casual games market. This information was combined with DFC Intelligence’s proprietary information and techniques to generate the industry numbers contained herein.

2006 Casual Games Market Highlights A Summary Report by the Casual Games Association

STANDARD REVENUE MODELS – RETAILERS

Trial-to-Purchase – 43% of Online Revenue The dominant business model on online casual game portals allows players to download and play games for free on a limited-use basis—after which the player may purchase the full version of the game for around $20. Whatever revenue is generated is divided between the developer/publisher and the portal. The trial-to-purchase conversion rate is usually around 1% with some titles reaching up to 5% on some sites. Approximately 60 million casual game downloads occur each month. Advertising – 39.5% of Online Revenue Each online retail portal typically features advertising prominently within its site. Such advertising may appear via banners, interstitials, and even in-game placement. Even though many portals make a significant amount of revenue from advertising, they typically do not share that revenue with developers or publishers. However, a number of online retailers have announced plans to begin sharing advertising revenue with content providers. Subscription – 17.5% of Online Revenue Subscription services provide a notable exception to the try-before-youbuy, advertising-driven model. For example, for $5 per month Club Pogo offers subscribers a variety of premium games, chat rooms, and community features, all advertising-free. With over 1.2 million subscribers, Club Pogo has become one of the most successful subscription entertainment products on the Internet.

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Retail In addition to online sales, casual games are also sold at retail. Brick-andmortar retailers such as Best Buy, EB Games, and Wal-Mart offer the most popular casual games on their shelves along with core game titles. While the shelf space for core PC games has been slipping in recent years, the shelf space for casual games in these stores has seen significant growth. Mumbo Jumbo, for example, has been actively taking online casual games to the retail market with impressive results.

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Casual Games Association

2006 Casual Games Market Report STANDARD REVENUE MODELS – DEVELOPERS

Many developers have prospered by developing games that are digitally distributed through casual game portals. For instance, PopCap’s flagship franchise, Bejeweled, has sold over 10 million copies worldwide. However, only a very small percentage of games manage to generate more than $1 million. In fact, of the hundreds of games released each year, only a handful become consistent revenue generators, with the bulk of the money being made by the top 20 games: Online Casual Games Trial-to-Purchase Sales Since Inception Share of Units Sold Top 5 Games 35% Top 10 Games 60% Top 20 Games 75% Although these top products can generate revenue for well over a year, outside of the top 10 games there is considerable turnover from one month to the next. As the number of new game releases continues to increase, in fact, it is reasonable to assume that the concentration of revenues may actually intensify as the market matures. Another way in which publishers are extending the life and reach of their most popular games is by releasing new, updated versions of their games and creating hybrid versions of existing games. Thus, Mumbo Jumbo first introduced Luxor; then came Luxor: Amun Rising; and now recently they have brought us Luxor Mahjong—with over 40 million downloads so far for games under the Luxor brand. SIZE OF THE MARKET

Due to the multiplicity of casual game sites online, it is not possible to get a truly accurate count of the casual game-playing population. However, even conservative estimates indicate that at any one time there can be hundreds of thousands of people playing casual games concurrently—a staggering total which projects to tens of millions of monthly users. What that means for game publishers and developers is a vibrant marketplace full of money-making possibilities. DFC Intelligence has estimated that worldwide revenue from online casual games in 2005 was around about $700 million in 2005, with 45% of that ($314 million) coming in North America alone.

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North American Online Casual Games Revenue 2005 Total Revenue Share of Total Trial-to-Purchase (Download) $135 M 43.0% Advertising $124 M 39.5% Subscriptions $55 M 17.5% TOTAL $314 M By 2008, the North American online casual market is estimated to reach $690 million with worldwide revenue of over $1.5 billion. CHALLENGES AHEAD FOR 2007

Product Proliferation The current casual game business is beginning to see some of the same challenges common to a hot retail environment, namely: There are too many products and there is only so much “shelf space” (or in this case “screen space”) available. Potential Conflicts of Interest The casual game space now includes many firms which develop original games, publish games on behalf of other developers, and distribute games through their own online portals. As a result, competitors can often find themselves working cooperatively, distributing one another’s games through their respective portals and sharing the revenue generated in the process. As this somewhat confusing phenomenon is starting to create strain within the industry, in the months ahead a more conventional separation of roles may become unavoidable. This report was prepared using confidential sales information from over half of the major online casual games portals. The Casual Games Association thanks all companies who answered our inquiries and contributed real data to feed into the calculations by DFC Intelligence. If you would like to be involved next year, contact us at: data@casualgamesassociation.org. Should you reference any of the data included in this report, please quote the following source: 2006 Casual Games Association & DFC Intelligence Report. For more information on this report, contact the Casual Games Association’s Marketing Action Group at marketing@casualgamesassociation.org.

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Jennifer Bullard

Scheduling Creativity

Each time we say this time will be different. And each time it is—just not the way we want it to be.

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ou knew it was going to happen. The casual games industry is growing up, and what that means is that our processes need to grow up with it. We’re starting to see much bigger development teams and the more sophisticated development practices that come with them. In the core development space, producers directly manage teams of 50 developers including responsibility for design, development, testing and art. And we can learn a lot from watching how they work. The CGA asked me to prepare a virtual how-to for getting started in scheduling a game development project based on my experience managing a mid-sized team of approximately 35 developers. I have also included some tips and tricks associated with this seemingly daunting and often inaccurate task.

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What employee doesn’t want time off? Everyone needs a break - so make sure to include time-off within your development schedule. Pictured here is Jennifer’s recent trip to Geneva to visit a development studio

ESTIMATING TIME

A new development project can be in trouble from the outset unless the schedule is based on reasonable time estimates. The trouble is that the realities of the workplace can make time estimates unnecessarily ambiguous. Even common terms such as “months” or “days” can be imprecise and lead to misconceptions. How many days in a month? 30? Wrong! A work-month ranges from 19 to 22 days. And a work-week is typically five days long—not seven—assuming that it isn’t shortened by a holiday. Thus, from the outset you will be better off if you base your estimates on how time is actually “consumed” in the workplace. For example, if you use “hours” to break down tasks into their smallest increments, you will be better off every time. If someone says a task will take two days, for instance, write down 16 hours. Then, keeping in mind that a typical eight hour day includes maybe only six hours of actual work (what with time spent in meetings, getting coffee, hanging out in cubes or surfing the web), you’ll know that when a programmer tells you “two days” you should expect it to take more like 2.75 days instead. Similarly, you should use weeks to define key milestones. If you are looking to get paid every month based on a publisher’s schedule, then some of your milestones are going to be five weeks and some will be four. In fact, often it is helpful to not count the fifth week as a working week at all so that you give the schedule some “rest time” to allow the team to clean up work and catch up on details. On average you can count on about four of these bonus weeks a year, which can be a boon when dealing with tight schedules or overstuffed game design documents.


STEP ONE: ANTICIPATING INTERRUPTIONS

Whenever planning a development schedule, make sure to take note of holidays and vacation days up front. Also pay attention to where each holiday falls in case any of them (like July 4th) is likely to be turned into a 4-day weekend. I also recommend that you note days that are likely to cut into the number of hours people work: Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Easter, Mother’s Day, Passover, Yom Kippur, etc. It also doesn’t hurt to make note of each team member’s birthday. I also strongly recommend sending out an e-mail asking for vacation plans from each member of the team. The earlier everyone knows about these things the better, especially if it turns out that half of your team is going to be gone the first week in July or that your lead programmer is taking two weeks off in March while his wife is having a baby. STEP TWO: FACTORING IN KEY MILESTONES

On any project there are set lengths of time for each step in the process that you need to allow for. Find out how many weeks need to be dedicated to each step and deduct them from the schedule. When I do this, I like to work backwards: Manufacturing Time – How long does it take for your manufacturer to print the discs and ship to the retailers? Is time of year a variable? Can you re-slot yourself or is the date set in stone? On average you’ll need to allow about four weeks. Certification – The certification process depends almost entirely on the shipping hardware. Time and process will vary by manufacturer, but here is a safe rule of thumb: Find out how long it should take and then pad it by at least two weeks. That way if something goes horribly wrong you’ll have time to fix it. On the other hand, who is going to begrudge you two weeks of polish time if all goes well? Beta to Gold Master – At EA, Beta means the team thinks the game is ready to ship. I recommend leaving two weeks between Beta and Gold Master, during which time no development or bug fixing is expected and the product goes through rigorous certification testing. This two week period is a great fail-safe precaution that gives your team time to polish the game off.

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Alpha to Beta – An Alpha at EA means that all of the content and features are in and playable and you can play through the main line of the game without consistent crashes. To be certain, you will still have some crashes and problems and there will be bugs to fix, but for the most part the game is playable. Depending on the project, this period can run anywhere from four to 12 weeks.

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Jennifer Bullard

Scheduling Creativity Feature Complete to Alpha – Feature Complete generally means all of your features are in, but most likely they don’t work properly and there are crashes. I consider Feature Complete a good gauge of how well the project is going and the appropriate point to determine the final features of the product. Getting feedback from focus testers is key at this point so that you can determine two things: a) which features don’t work at all and ought to be eliminated; and b) what additional features must be added either to fix current problems or to simply make the game more fun. Figure out what you can realistically add and then cut everything else. If the game is seriously buggy, however, don’t add new features at all, but rather fix what is there and polish things up. It is here that you determine whether or not the project can or should be extended to improve game-play, or if an extra month or two really won’t make much of a difference. The period between Feature Complete and Alpha is typically between four to eight weeks—again, depending on the scope of the project. Demos – Make sure you know early on when the game is going to be demoed and how much time your team is willing to put into each demo. If demos are extremely important to your team, company or publisher, make sure to put at least two weeks for each show into your schedule. If your title is going to be a big hit at a big show such as E3 then create an entire milestone (four to six weeks) to create content and polish just for that.

Jennifer Bullard has worked in the game industry since 1998. She has worked her way through QA, through Design, into Production, and now is a Sr. Producer at Aspyr Media where she manages a team of 25 game developers. With over 40 titles in their portfolio, Aspyr Media is a developer and publisher of original and localized game content. Jennifer can be reached at jbullard@aspyr.com.

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© 2006 Casual Games Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or part of this magazine is strictly prohibited. Casual Connect, Casuality, Casual Games Association, Minna Mingle, Minna Magazine the Casuality logo, and the Casual Games Association logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Casual Games Association. All other product and company names mentioned herein may be trademarks of their respective owners. Published, printed and distributed by the Casual Games Association, 4216 Interlake Ave N , 1st Floor, Seattle , WA 98103 .


Ethan Clark

Core Values of the Casual Industry

Q&A Download with Scott Bilas

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or those casual-ites who have not experienced the core side, a bit of insight provides perspective on what to embrace and what to exclude. On the other hand, do expectations and reality meet for our friends who are lured from core games by the promise of compact crunches and bottomless bonus pools? Where better to get info on the casual-core interface than from someone who has successfully navigated within both industries? Scott Bilas worked as the Lead Engineer on the “Core Retail” PC/Console games Gabriel Knight III (Sierra Online) and Dungeon Siege (Gas Powered Games) and as Director of Technology at Oberon Media in the “Casual Online” games space.

Scott Bilas

Everyone seems eager to define what “casual” is. How do you see it? I used to think of “casual” as just “smaller scope, timeline, and budget.” While this can often be the case, I’ve since decided that it’s too narrow and exclusive a definition. There are plenty of awesome hardcore games that serve niche audiences that are small, cheap, or quick to build (Geometry Wars, Crimsonland). There are also plenty of high-budget games running on expensive consoles that are definitely casual (Burnout 3, Guitar Hero). The cost/scope issue is more a function of desired depth of content. Today, I think of casual as simply “games for everyone”—it’s just an attitude. These are games that primarily focus on making game-play fun and approachable, not usually worrying about moddability, fancy graphics algorithms, inventory management, etc. Now, obviously all games are supposed to be focused on fun, but with hardcore games, it’s easy for a developer to get distracted with expensive things that don’t add much to the game-play. (I’ve been as guilty of this as anyone in hardcore development).

CASUAL CONNECTMAGAZINE

That being said, it’s most convenient to think about casual games in broad terms. The line is blurring, though, as casual budgets go up and hardcore games become too nerdy to be profitable. This has been a big topic at hardcore game conferences lately. There will come a time, though—maybe in five years or so—when “casual games” will mean something totally different to us than it does today—or when it doesn’t really have any meaning at all any more because we will all be making mass market games.

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Ethan Clark

Core Values of the Casual Industry THE CASUAL SPACE – BUSINESS-DRIVEN

Brian Reynolds of Big Huge Games often speaks of the differences between a business-driven and a development-driven game company. What are the advantages of working at a business driven-company like Oberon Media (in the Casual Online space) as compared to a development-driven company like Sierra Online or Gas Powered Games (in the Core Retail space)? I’m just a caveman developer, so I don’t really know enough to comment much on this, especially when talking about advantages and comparing specific companies. But in general, from what I can see, the business-driven companies seem reliably to make the most money and the strongest partners and enemies. In contrast, the development-driven companies seem to bet on building a hit game—but most can’t do this very reliably. As a developer, I love making a game that’s critically acclaimed and treated as something special, but I also really enjoy working with business development people who know what they are doing and are trying to get my game out in every possible way—every language, platform, channel, etc. In thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of the places I’ve worked, I wouldn’t say that it comes down to whether the company was bizdriven or dev-driven. Instead, the key is the relationship between the game development team and the biz development team. And then we’re talking about culture and personalities, not models. At least for me, what makes the most difference is the interface between both sides. You mention the relationship between game development and biz development being very important. As the casual gaming market matures, do you foresee organizations like iWin, Reflexive, Oberon, Real and Mumbo Jumbo maintaining their ability to branch across the value chain? Can development and business really mix? Concept art from Inspector Parker. Inspector Parker was released as many casual games were adding story and increased production values.

Oh absolutely. We’re all already doing this, pushing out in every possible direction. If I saw a Cap’n Crunch’s Big Kahuna Berries cereal come out, I would not be surprised at all. As a developer, my instinct to loathe this kind of marketing stuff fights against my desire to see the stock gain value, for my IP to get out to more places, for mo’ money.

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For me, the best balance is to let the creative team run off and make great games while you have a different “live team” support group working to get the IP out there. So when someone signs a deal to get our games out in kiosks in the beef section at Safeway or whatever, and we have to put the Safeway logo and “#1 Chuck” on the main screen, the creative team doesn’t pay an opportunity and morale cost. There’s also the issue of these kinds of marketing deals diluting or tainting the brand (like a Diner Dash Playboy Edition might do) but that’s for people smarter than me to worry about.


CASUAL GAMES ENGINEERING

What books, websites, tools or other resources have you found helpful that you would recommend to someone interested in moving over to the casual industry?

Books I originally learned C++ about 15 years ago on a now-ancient book called

The C++ Primer Plus. Awesome book, and I swear I’ve seen it around on shelves lately so they must still be updating it, although it’s probably totally different today (so buyer beware). I also got a lot out of Code Complete and Writing Solid Code (though that one’s really dated now). The Effective C++ series is good stuff, though it gets too esoteric in places messing around with auto pointers and such, but overall it’s very good. And of course the various “gems” series, particularly Graphics Gems and (shameless plug) Game Programming Gems. Finally, you just can’t get enough debug loving, so pick up anything online or offline by John “Bugslayer” Robbins, especially his Debugging Applications for .Net and Windows. Lately, I haven’t really been reading books for game industry or engineering topics. Blogs have taken over. Although I just happened to buy a set of books called Japan Underground and Deep Inside from Amazon Japan. Amazing pictures in those, very inspiring. Not very casual, but everybody should check those out.

Websites I’m a big fan of Gamezebo and Jay Is Games through the Casual Game

Blogs’ RSS aggregator. I find a ton of great new games through those that I wouldn’t find on any of the big portals. I also like Kotaku, which, though primarily hardcore, is where all the cool kids go to get their game info. For tech people in Windows land, please read every article that Raymond Chen posts on his Old New Thing blog. Some others I read regularly: Jan Miksovsky, John Maeda, Mark Russinovich, Miguel de Icaza, Scott Miller, Joel Spolsky, Bruce Schneier.

Tools Casual studios need to be more conscious of expenditures, so I’m usually on

the lookout for cheap tools that do an equivalent job to the big tools. I’d recommend that people moving over to casual games reexamine the tools they grew up with and see if they can get away with something cheaper or free. Although you’ll have to pry Visual Studio and Perforce from my cold dead hands.

continued on p 17

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Also, I’d look at alternate codecs, for example Ogg instead of MP3. While a big $10 million game won’t even notice the $2k (or whatever it is) patent license fee, a casual game sure will. Ogg is more expensive on the CPU, but it’s completely free to use, and great libraries like FMOD support it out of the box. In addition, the quality is much better, so you can pack your huge music tracks down even smaller. With Ogg, we’ve been able to get away with ~45kbps stereo for our music tracks without losing much quality. Consider JPEG2000 instead of JPEG, which has huge savings in space, though at a huge CPU penalty requiring a pre-decompression stage. Consider embedding Flash to play back video (Flash has a great video codec).

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Art & Story

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have been in the video game industry longer than most of you have been alive. It all started when a small startup turned to a local university artistic staff looking for art for a video game. (Turns out they also needed someone old enough to get the power turned on in the building . . . but that is a story for another time.) Working in the game industry has been a pleasant blessing—the creative power and sheer excitement for products is unmatched. And if you haven’t heard yet, casual games are the next big thing—you can hear them being talked about everywhere. You should be proud to be a part of an exciting new industry. As for me, I’m just happy to be here. . . .

Maurine

Maurine Starkey created the above painting just for the Fall issue of the CGA Magazine. You can reach Maurine at colmahouse@yahoo.com. Submit your art story to editor@casualconnect.org

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Thursday November 16th 9:30 - 10:00 - Welcome: Overview of the Casual Games Space. 10:00 - 11:00 - International Casual Games Market: Overview of terms & definitions used inside of the casual games space. language: Russian 11:30 - 12:30 - The Value Chain: An exploration of the Typical Revenue Splits and Responsibilities of Publishers and Distributors. 14:00 - 15:00 - The Portrait of a Casual Gamer: Who is the Audience and What Experience are they Looking For. 15:30 - 16:30 - International Business Standards: Learn what Eastern European developers need to know to become compliant with laws and common business practices. language: English & Russian 17:00 - 18:00 - International Publishers and Distributors: Overview of publishing and distribution services available outside Russia & Eastern Europe. language: Russian Friday November 17th 9:30 - 10:00 - Welcome: Casual Games Association Action Group Update 10:00 - 11:00 - The Eastern European Casual Games Market: Opportunities for collaboration. language: Russian 11:30 - 12:30 - Eastern European Development Community: Overview of the developer community in Eastern Europe. language: Russian 14:00 - 15:00 - Russian Distribution Channels: Overview of the distribution channels available in Russia & Eastern Europe and the importance of partnering with portals. language: Russian 15:30 - 16:30 - Eastern Europe & Western Relationships. What should each party keep in mind when embarking on a partnership. language: Russian 17:00 - 18:00 - “Core” Retail PC and Console Game Development and “Casual” Game Development: Learning from the other side and making the transition. Downtown Kiev , Ukraine

Note: All sessions will be translated into Russian and English. Native Russian speakers are noted on the schedule

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Business Center Leonardo– Europe: East 2006 Conference Venue

Saturday November 18th 9:30 - 10:00 - Welcome: Overview of the Casual Games Space with a focus on the needs of developers. 10:00 - 11:00 - Alternative Platforms: What platforms are optimal for porting casual games? language: English & Russian 11:30 - 12:30 - Community based and multiplayer casual games. 14:00 - 15:00 - The Perfect Casual Game Pitch 15:30 - 16:30 - Going all the way: How to ensure you finish your casual game. Publishing Contracts, Distribution Contracts, Prototyping, Testing, User Surveys, Usability Testing, Focus Groups. language: English & Russian 17:00 - 18:00 - Middleware Game Engines and Tools: What Tools and Game Engines are available for independent developers? language: Russian

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continued from p. 14

Ethan Clark

Core Values of the Casual Industry Finally, think about your use of 3D hardware. Many engines, including the one we use at my studio, are built on top of the 3D card. With this reliance, you’re cutting out part of your audience that either doesn’t have the right DirectX installed, or has bad drivers, or doesn’t support pixel shaders, or whatever. I’d really recommend looking at SwiftShader from TransGaming to support this segment of the audience. Then you can have the best of both worlds—fancy 3D effects that scale back on older systems and perform well either way. Organization is definitely something that would benefit the casual studio as much as a core game studio. How important is it for a casual studio to set up organizational tools such as source control, communication tools, time trackers, and info repositories? I believe in heavily investing in tools and processes to support the development team, and I spent a considerable amount of time in the early days of the studio setting us up for success. This includes things like: a good bugbase (Jira) with proper workflow, strict standards for source tree layout and builds, compilers and SDKs checked into Perforce, an automated build system (FinalBuilder), heavy debug infrastructure in the games and engines, a good wiki (Confluence), a time tracker to assign costs to projects, email update services from different tools, a low-impedance content pipeline. . . . I took what I had done or learned at my previous companies (especially at Gas Powered Games) and applied what worked to the new studio. We continue to add new services often where there’s a need, but generally things are pretty stable now, so we can focus mostly on continuously improving the engine and the content pipeline. Do you think the energy put into your infrastructure has been well spent? You bet. It’s pretty often that I’ll feel like we dodged a bullet, when something comes up that we weren’t expecting but were already prepared for, and we didn’t have to waste a lot of time dealing with it. As for day-to-day development, things are always getting better, but I’m very happy with the base we’re building on—the investment has been paying off for some time now. Our ability to instantly scale the studio up to 30+ people when we were building the Vista games still gives me the warm fuzzies. We never would have been able to do that so effectively without the investments we had made in tools and process. TOOLS FOR THE CASUAL SOFTWARE ENGINEER

There are a number of third-party solutions available for developing casual games such as Torque, the PopCap framework, and Macromedia Flash. Can you describe the experiences you’ve had working with these tools and share any recommendations you have for folks deciding which way to go?

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Torque We looked pretty closely at Torque 2D back when it was in beta, and it

was impressive. I bet it’s amazing today. One of the developers on my team did the evaluation and I remember him having a game up and running very quickly on it. The GarageGames guys are also really good about support. I’d recommend that everyone take a look at Torque 2D.

PopCap We have no direct experience with this engine and haven’t evaluated it, but I’ve heard good things about it. Given that it’s free, though, I’d be concerned about maintenance and upgrades of the engine, as well as support.

Flash I have a love/hate relationship with Flash. At Oberon we’ve shipped several

games on Flash and I even wrote an article about it where I talked in detail about the issues involved in making Flash games (see: “What About Flash? Can We Really Make Games With It?” at scottbilas.blogspot.com). Since then, Flash 9 with Actionscript 3 has shipped, which changes the landscape a little—but in our research, not enough.

BeTrapped! and Saints and Sinners Bingo were created using Flash and Director – which were compiled and compressed before shipping the game to online portals.

We’ve recently decided that for the type of games we want to make, Flash is too limiting—so we’ve switched completely to a C++ engine. Another limitation of Flash that has bitten us a couple times is its inability to run on other platforms without paying Adobe/Macromedia a giant licensing fee. Want your game on the Xbox? You’re looking at a total rewrite with no reuse of code or architecture. We still use Flash for our new games, but only as an authoring tool, and not for playback. Our engine design is also partially inspired by the Flash object model—movies, layers, timelines, hierarchies, and such. As for a recommendation, I’d still definitely look at Flash. If you want to make a graphically complex or CPU-intensive game, Flash may be the wrong choice, but no matter what, it’s still worth evaluating. It’s got a big, active community, and you can still make great games on it. I keep a copy under my pillow at night. What is your take on developing multi-player functionality for casual titles? What resources or research do you suggest for someone just starting work on their multi-player technology?

I’d head over to the Torque forums and see what other people are running into. The GarageGames guys have also written a lot of great articles on net-

CASUAL CONNECTMAGAZINE

This is an enormous subject, and much depends on what the “multiplayer functionality” is. Multiplayer is a broad spectrum—if you’re simply doing connected games, or turn-based, it’s a totally different story from true real-time or massively connected games. Even within real-time games, there’s a big range—is it fully synchronized or is each client simulating its own? Are we peer-to-peer? Are we trying to host 1,000 games on one server? The game design itself is a key element in determining the cost of implementation and testing, and the research involved. It’s hard to give an answer on this, but I’m certain that connected gaming is coming in a big way to casual games, and we all need to be figuring out what that means.

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Ethan Clark

Core Values of the Casual Industry working, as have many other developers like Id, Valve, Lucas, Ensemble, Bungie—almost all of which can be found through Google. One thing is certain: adding connectivity to a game is a lot of work. Don’t underestimate it, don’t expect it can be bolted on later, and don’t expect to get away with a short beta period. Connectivity and latency issues take a very long time to sort out, and you need real people to do it. THE TRANSITION FROM CORE TO CASUAL

How does developing casual games compare to developing in the core space? Are you glad you chose to move into casual games?

I was surprised by how well my technical skills transferred over into casual games. We still solve a lot of interesting problems—they’re just different, and they don’t take three months to solve. It took me about a year to really figure out how to “scale down,” but I absolutely love the casual space and will never go back to hardcore games. I say that for the usual reasons: small team sizes, simpler codebase, less pressure, etc. But another big reason I really dig casual games is the digital distribution, the try-before-you-buy method. Unlike retail, where you can sucker a bunch of people into buying a lousy game with a ton of promotion or a movie license, in digital downloadable the people who buy your game truly enjoy the game. Promote all you want to get the download velocity, but they won’t convert if it isn’t actually good. So the top ten games on a major casual games portal like Big Fish are really the top ten best games at that time for that portal’s audience. I love that. I also love how there’s a lot of room for smaller developers to make a name and space for themselves. (This is nothing new, though. The old shareware model paved the way for this.) How should an experienced core game developer be prepared to adapt in order to succeed in our industry? Is it only a matter of scale and attention span? One of the biggest problems is actually understanding the audience. Hardcore developers make games for themselves (“I like that—let’s put it in”), whereas casual developers make games for themselves and everybody else (“I like that, but let’s make sure it works for my dad/sister/receptionist too”). This is a tough transition to make. It’s very easy to start making assumptions about what the difficulty curve should be or how the tutorial should work, simply based on personal bias. But you’ve really got to get with your players and see what they do with the game. This is nothing new either: Valve has been beating the playtest drum since they published their “cabal process” years ago. Because we’re digitally distributed, though, we can add analytics and Dungeon Siege developed by Gas Powered Games and published by Microsoft sold over 1 million units in retail. While Dungeon Siege was a large budget game, many elements of the game appealed to the mass market consumer. The developers wives and family members tested the game during the beta and development phases to ensure the game would appeal to a wide audience.

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find out for real what people are doing with our games. For me, the toughest problems in adapting are: (a) stop being so nerdy; (b) love your audience, don’t resent them; and (c) embrace frequent user-testing. It’s easy to talk about but really hard to internalize. One of the largest differences between a casual studio and a core studio is the scope of the products. Whereas a lead position in the core industry may put you in charge of a single title and all the resources that go with it, an analogous position in the casual space might put you in control of an entire portfolio. Is the skill-set of that project lead in the core space directly transferable to casual business? I don’t think that’s necessarily true. On Gabriel Knight III at Sierra we had something like seven engineers with two leads. On Galapago at Oberon we had two engineers with one lead. At least in my experience, we’ve simply scaled everything down. I suppose where you’d normally have one person to manage each game’s IP on big projects at a core studio, you would instead have one person to manage all your games’ IP at a casual studio. But I don’t have any personal experience with this. I have always managed development, and in development we don’t really use the word “portfolio” very much outside of art. Gabriel Knight III was the third in a series of games which had a very strong female following. While the game series consisted of mature themes – they were presented in a way which women found appealing.

PLATFORM INDEPENDENCE

An advantage to being casual is flexibility and portability. Casual games are continually finding themselves on new platforms: mobile, Mac, console, handheld, PDA. Are alternative platforms a beneficial extension to the casual space?

CASUAL CONNECTMAGAZINE

Casual games work better for porting/adapting to other platforms for a few reasons. They usually have low system requirements, are top-down or 2D or otherwise flat. Though they may use 3D elements, they rarely have a rotating camera. They have a very simple interface—point and click, or click and drag—no hotkeys, and the right mouse button and wheel are almost never required for core game-play. All of these things make it a lot easier to build a good game experience on a set-top box, or a cell phone, or even a game kiosk in a pub. Most alternative platforms have slow processors, poor graphical capabilities, and a few digital buttons (no analog). Casual game designs also tend to “fit” better on these platforms—a Sudoku game is perfect for your iPod, whereas a first person shooter is going to be a lousy experience. As for whether alternative platforms are beneficial extensions: absolutely. We’ve all seen the success that GarageGames has gotten on Live Arcade. Top titles ported to mobile can make several times the revenue they make on the PC. Casual games can also perform well at retail (PC-CD). I think I saw Bejeweled lottery tickets somewhere—is that an alternative platform?

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Ethan Clark

Core Values of the Casual Industry I think every casual game developer should be thinking about alternate platforms, but thinking carefully. Many of these platforms sound like a great idea but never really pan out. For example, the seat-back games they put on airplanes—are you sure you want to put time into porting your game to Linux or whatever screwy embedded OS those things run, even though nobody seems to buy game sessions from those things? On the other hand, I’m pretty stoked to see what new stuff comes out for the iPod, which is basically a high-end cell phone. How do you feel about the recent announcement by Microsoft to offer XNA Express openly to allow development for Xbox 360? I think it’s cool. It’s like Net Yaroze except way cheaper. It won’t have any direct effect on casual games because you can’t play these games without buying the kit (which most people won’t do), but it should give rise to some great indie game concepts and demoscene stuff. I don’t know how many times I’ve downloaded some cool looking demo from a site only to find it makes my machine lock up or runs so slowly I can’t tell what the developers intended. With a solid, consistent platform, we’re going to see some pretty awesome stuff—although what I’d really like to see is a Wii Express or DS Express. Do you think the stance Nintendo has taken on giving games mass appeal will help casual games or the game industry in general? The casual industry may get some ideas from Nintendo’s games (how many DS games spawned from ideas pulled from Wario Touched?) but we’re basically already there on mass appeal with our attitudes about making games. We may have a long way to go—only one or two out of a hundred who try our games actually buy them—but we’re on the right path. It’s the hardcore industry that has a long way to go on mass appeal. They typically look down on casual games, but most hardcore developers I know are huge DS fans, so I think Nintendo will be able to make some change in the hardcore space. Developing for multiple platforms can quickly consume a lot of resources in a company. How should a casual game company go about building expertise on platforms outside of the traditional business model? Each new platform is likely going to be an entirely different world with only a few things in common with your primary platform—new technology, new design challenges, new channels, new quality standards, new business model. A Nintendo DS is completely different technologically and API-wise from a PC. A set-top box with only a D-pad plus some buttons (in a crappy infrared remote) has little in common with a mouse and keyboard. If you sell on Live Arcade, you have to play by their rules—TCRs, getting in the content pipeline, making Microsoft happy with your game’s quality and appeal. If you go to retail you must deal with the ESRB.

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To build expertise on these platforms you’re almost creating new business units to handle all of the unique concerns. It’s a lot more than just getting a dev kit and learning the XDK, or worrying about supporting widescreen displays. I’d say the technical and design challenges, while 90% of the manpower, are only half the problem of moving into a new platform. The other half is the kind of thing you find a publishing partner like Oberon to deal with.

Scott Bilas can be reached at scottbilas@gmail.com. Ethan Clark can be reached at ewclark@gmail.com

One special note: it’s a good idea to plan for alternative platforms and languages as you’re coding and designing your games. Avoid using libraries and frameworks that have draconian licensing schemes outside the PC world. If it’s at all possible to have only one “action” button, it will be that much easier to work on a remote control. If you use 100% unicode internally for UI strings and have a TTF text rendering option, you can go to the Far East a lot more easily. If you have a mouse-based game design that can also use the arrow keys and space bar to play, then suddenly devices that don’t have analog input are good options. In porting to another device a lot of reworking and redesign must always be done, but some decisions you make early on can really help reduce the cost of these things later.

CASUAL CONNECTMAGAZINE

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Sheri Pocilujko

10 Reasons Women Like Casual Games

Why Casual Games and Female Gamers Go Together

I

’ve played games for as long as I can remember. To the core, I’m what you could definitely call a “gamer.” And I’ve been involved in making and playing games long enough to have formed a few opinions regarding what drives the market. So it shouldn’t surprise you that when someone asks me “Why are casual games so popular among women?” I’ve got lots to say on the subject. It’s a question that’s worth asking. Consider the numbers: According to the Electronic Software Association, women make up 38% of all game players (PC, console, handheld, online, etc.)—but many casual game portals will tell you that their female audiences are much bigger than that. Women also are responsible for making between 80%-90% of all pocketbook decisions in the household. Those are some pretty powerful figures. So what it is about casual games that appeals so much to women? I can think of at least ten reasons why the women who might not play hardcore games so often play casual games instead:

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1. CASUAL GAMES ARE TYPICALLY SHORT —QUICK TO PLAY AND EASY TO PAUSE.

Say you’re a mom trying to cook dinner, take care of chores, run errands, etc. If you’re going to sneak in a little play-time, you need a game you can save often and pause at any moment. You need to be able to pick it up, play for 20 minutes or so, and run out the door—as opposed to a game which requires several hours of focused play to progress. 2. YOU CAN STOP A CASUAL GAME WITH LITTLE CONSEQUENCE.

When you’re on the go, you don’t want to be penalized for leaving a game in the middle or letting it end on its own. If you are playing Solitaire, Tetris, or Checkers, it doesn’t really hurt you to leave the game at a moment’s notice and not come back. Although some versions of games may have timers running, and online versions may have session time-outs, usually the stiffest penalty you might face is losing a chance at a record when you have to quit a high-scoring game in progress. 3. CASUAL GAMES ARE EASY TO LEARN.

When you don’t have much time and you aren’t a “hardcore gamer,” it helps when a game is easy to learn and instantly fun. Casual games always have relatively small learning curves. It’s the whole “easy-to-learn, hard to master” mantra. And if you’ve only fifteen minutes of play-time, you don’t want to feel frustrated because it took you that long to figure out how to choose your game mode. 4. CASUAL GAMES COME WITH EASY-TO-FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.

Many casual games feature tutorials, practice levels, and help sections that are easy to find and easy to follow. You may have heard the statement “Women read manuals; men don’t.” Although that is a generalized stereotype (as almost all things in these sorts of discussions are) it is often true. A woman is more likely to read the help section, read a manual, or play an optional tutorial than a man is.


You have probably heard that women are attracted to casual games and that we should listen to our mothers – but we often forget to think why women are attracted to casual games.

5. YOU CAN TRY A CASUAL GAME BEFORE YOU BUY IT.

It’s reasonable for anyone to want to know what they’re getting before they spend some money. When you’re serious about gaming, to find out about a game, you’ll visit the chat rooms, read the blogs, subscribe to some industry mag, and find some excuse to visit E3—anything to find out about the next cool game. As anyone who has done that can tell you, however, there are not very many women who are inclined to do all that work to find out about a game. Thus, the free demo that comes with most casual games is a superior alternative, ideally suited to those who see gaming more as a diversion rather than an obsession. 6. CASUAL GAMES ARE INEXPENSIVE.

CASUAL CONNECTMAGAZINE

Another reason I think so many women like casual games is that they offer a relatively low price point. A mom trying to feed a family, take care of the home, and pay for piano lessons is likely to be more willing to buy a casual game for $4.99 or $19.99 than she is to buy a console game for $49.99. What’s more, I’m guessing that even those who are totally hooked on a favorite casual game like what that $20 says about them: that playing the game is just a silly little pleasure—not that big of a deal.

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Sheri Pocilujko

10 Reasons Women Like Casual Games

7. CASUAL GAMES DON’T REQUIRE MUCH COMPUTING FIREPOWER.

In general, the average home PC with an Internet connection can run almost any casual game on the market. It is much easier to get into games when you don’t have to repeatedly upgrade your hardware or buy a console system just to play the game. So while a woman is already on the computer checking e-mail or surfing the web, it’s easy to take some time out to play a casual game. 8. CASUAL GAMES USUALLY DON’T FEATURE THE STEREOTYPICAL VIDEO GAME TURNOFFS FOR WOMEN.

If you ask women what they dislike about the most popular casual games, they’ll generally mention the same issues: unnecessary violence and big, bouncing boobs. To some degree, the young male demographic generally associated with hardcore games is a self-fulfilling prophecy: because they are designed for young males, that’s what they attract. In contrast, casual games are devoid of those turn-offs. In fact, their imagery is almost explicitly inoffensive and friendly—and women notice. 9. CASUAL GAMES DON’T HAVE THE SAME PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AS HARDCORE GAMES.

I’ve heard of women suffering from nausea or motion sickness while playing FPS games like Halo or Unreal Tournament. Also, many females feel they can’t compete with the fast-twitch play required by some hardcore games. In contrast, you don’t need great physical prowess or exceedingly fast handcontrol to play Diner Dash or Solitaire. 10. CASUAL GAMES ARE MORE FUN!

Ultimately, fun is what really matters. So what does all this mean? It means that casual games currently are one of the best subsets of the video game industry to attract and keep the female demographic. It means that in an ever-growing industry you’re poised to help reach 51% of the world’s population possibly better than anyone else in games. And it means that you’ve already found some of the ways to capture the hearts (and pocketbooks!) of that “elusive female market.” For more information on women’s gaming and purchasing habits: http://www.theesa.com/facts/top_ 10_facts.php http://www.northernexpress.com/editorial/features.asp?id=1673

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Sheri Pocilujko is an avid gamer. She plays all types from board, card, and paper role-playing to PC, massive-multiplayer, and console games. Sheri is an outspoken member of the industry and an active contributor to the International Game Developers Association. Sheri can be reached at: spocilujko@ comcast.net.


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Michael Mei

Contract Basics Understanding What You’re Signing Before You Sign

We’ll examine each of those sections in turn: 1) Recitals: 2) Definitions: 3) Grant of License: 4) Term: 5) Compensation:

F

rom the Editors: At each of the previous Casual Games Association conferences, the sessions on contracts have been among the most popular. We think that interest is an accurate reflection of the importance of contracts—and an acknowledgement of the fact that a good contract can mean the difference between making money and going out of business. Starting with this piece, we hope to publish a series of articles designed to demystify contracts and help our members know how to read them. And so we begin with this obvious disclaimer (it’s a “legal” article, after all): We’re not lawyers and don’t pretend to be. As with any legal matter, you should seek the guidance of an attorney before signing any contract which may affect the health of your company. Our examinations of contracts begins with the primary sections which all licensing and distribution contracts have in common. The general boiler plate contract includes several key template sections: the intent of the contract, what rights someone is granting or wanting, what time period the rights are secured, and what royalties are paid for those rights.

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What What What What What

is the purpose of this contract? are the key terms used in the contract? License is being granted? is the length of the contract? are the royalties and pay schedule?

Recitals In order to explicitly establish who is entering into the agreement and when the agreement starts, the beginning of the contract often describes the two parties involved and the effective date. This section ends with the intent of the agreement such as the “Distributor wants to License certain rights from the Developer in order to distribute the games in the Distributor’s sale channels.” Think of the Recitals section as a basic overview of the contract itself. Definitions This section defines the key terms used in the contract. Pay close attention to how terms are defined, especially those terms which are interrelated. For instance, if Net Revenues is defined as the net of Affiliate Fees and Cost of Goods Sold, you’ll need to see how Affiliate Fees and Cost of Goods Sold are defined as well. And be careful: The definition of Net Revenues in one contract may be very different from the definition used in another. As a standard practice, the terms in the definition section are capitalized throughout the document in order to signal that their meaning has been explicitly defined within the contract, thus ensuring that they retain their exact meaning throughout. Some contracts dispense with the Definitions section altogether and put the definitions of words within the flow of the document instead. While this makes for shorter contracts, it can also make the reading of the contract more difficult—especially for those new to contracts. For clarity and simplicity, we recommend using a Definitions section. Grant of License This is one of the most important sections in the contract because it establishes limits on the License being sought or granted. If you’re a developer, you should clearly understand what licensing rights the distributor is asking for. For example, you should know if the License includes exclusivity, the right to modify your game, ownership of the intellectual property if they modify your game, the right to bundle other software with your game, restrictions on your own distribution, and perhaps even the right to make sequels.


If you are ever in doubt about what License you are granting, ASK THE QUESTION! And if the wording is in any way ambiguous, make sure that the section is rewritten to accurately reflect the terms as you understand them. Also included in this section is a secondary grant of License to use the trademarks. Though the grant of License to use the trademarks is secondary to the purpose of the agreement, it’s still quite important inasmuch as incorrect use of can jeopardize the trademarks. Term & Effect of Termination This section defines the length of the agreement for which you grant the specific License. It also specifies what happens when the term expires. Questions to ask are:

Does the term automatically renew? And when it renews, how long is the renewal term? If you want to cancel the contract, how many days prior do you need to give notification? When the term or contract expires, how soon does the grant of Li cense end? Is it immediate?

Depending on the strategy to market the games, a short term may be desirable. A shorter term may give you more flexibility to leverage up or even get out of a contract faster. Compensation This section defines the compensation schedule, typically presented as a revenue share with a minimum payout (or floor) for each game sold. Be sure to understand how revenue share is calculated and determine if “hidden” fees are deducted. For example, will the distributor be deducting “marketing” fees before paying your royalties, and do you have the right to approve those fees prior to any expenditures?

Next time we’ll touch on the remainder of the core contract components: Audits Rights, Reps/Warranties, Indemnification, Limits of Liability, and Governing Law.

CASUAL CONNECTMAGAZINE

Michael Mei, Business Development at Reflexive Entertainment can be reached at mmei@reflexive.net

Ultimately, you want to avoid “Hollywood accounting”—a contract that stipulates that you get paid only after everyone else gets paid (leaving you with little or no royalties). For example, a distributor might promise you 80% net rev share (which sounds really great) but then allocate 99% of the gross revenues to “Other Fees or Affiliates”—leaving you with 80% of the remaining 1%. (That’s right: Everyone got rich but you!) Conclusion With a clear understanding of the purpose and content of these key sections, you’ll be in a much better position to evaluate a contract and determine whether signing it is in the best interests of your firm. Of course, you’ll still want to retain legal counsel before you sign, but as you do so you’ll be able to talk intelligently about what you’re looking for rather than simply taking the attorney at his/her word. In the end, being contract-savvy can only result in good things for your business.

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Vinny Carrella

Download Size Doesn’t Matter

Editorial

Downloadable Games Don’t Have to Be Small—They Just Have to Be Good

Т

wenty-two minutes, eleven seconds. That’s how long I waited. And I’ve got broadband, and a brand new Dell laptop. Twenty-two minutes and change. That’s how long it took me to download the whopping 754Mb Nancy Drew: Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon from Big Fish this morning. I was willing to suffer this interminable delay because I have two young daughters starving for something that is more than just a light excursion into a land of shiny matching gems and upwardly mobile waitresses. My kids want something rich, something timeless, something that aspires to be more than just a puzzle game. So, apparently, do many other visitors to popular casual game portals, whose collective outcry seems to debunk the notion that download games need to be small in order to sell. Apparently bigness is not badness and, with one major caveat, size doesn’t matter.

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According to my secret sources, Her Interactive’s first foray into casual games with their less-than-download friendly Nancy Drew series has sold very well. Why? Well, I have a theory. Actually I have several theories. I have no data yet mind you, but based on nothing but pure observation and fifteen years in and around the digital entertainment business, I suspect the reason why casual gamers seem to be embracing this behemoth of a download is simply because: a. b. c.

It’s a well-recognized brand based on a classic literary series that shoots a bulls-eye at the demographic. With its core-game production values, rich story and characters and 20+hours of game-play, offers a superior value over the typical casual game fare. It’s a really good game.

Remember when I said that my daughters want an experience that’s rich, timeless and something aspiring to be more than just a game? Well, I’m not quoting them directly. In fact I’m not quoting them at all. They, at five and six years of age, do not have the words timeless, rich or aspirational in their vocabulary. They didn’t tell me they wanted these qualities in a game, they showed me. You see I play download games with my children. They sit in my lap and help me find matches in Mah-Jong Quest, they take the mouse from my hand to complete chains in Luxor and they are rapt with the iSpyesque Mystery Case Files. Some games they like, some they don’t, and the look in their eyes always gives them away. It’s easy to tell when they’re losing attention, getting sucked in or getting bored. My kids (all kids) are the best focus groups you can ask for because they have no agenda and no ingrained bias. A good game will engage the obvious five senses, a great game will engage the mind as well, and when we sat down to play Blue Moon Canyon it was as if I had just slipped the latest Miyazaki film into the DVD player.


Forgive me for name-dropping. Hayao Miyazaki is the brilliant Japanese director who made Spirited Away, the Oscar-Winning animated film about a young girl who is whisked off into a mysterious land of intrigue and adventure. Miyazaki’s films often feature strong female leads who must use their wits and courage to escape dangerous and visually compelling worlds. Sound familiar? The very core of the Nancy Drew canon is founded upon the same, basic premise and no doubt the thousands of casual gamers who have already endured at least twenty-two minutes of waiting for Blue Moon Canyon are doing so at least in part because Nancy Drew was written for women and girls intelligently, in the spirit of empowerment, instead of the blatant pandering we often see in some popular casual games. Maybe I’m over-analyzing this, but before Blue Moon Canyon, the only other examples of successful, large footprint downloads I can think of are games like Risk and Monopoly (also, not coincidentally, strong, evergreen brands that play to our collective, nostalgic pasts). But those games are half the size of the Nancy Drew installments. There’s got to be more going on here than just brand recognition. It’s possible that the mere convenience of being able to purchase a game previously only available at retail, coupled with a smart key-word campaign and the ubiquity of broadband accounts for some of the success here. But I believe there’s more going on. The download games market is growing, fast, and it’s attracting regular gamers, many of whom are women. These not-so-casual gamers are discovering new outlets and new content to feed their jones. As a veteran adventure gamer I am painfully aware of the dearth of titles that can tell a decent story while presenting a challenge. Twenty-two minutes is a small price to pay for a good adventure-style game. In fact I’d wait forty-four for a game my girls can play. It remains to be seen just how long Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon will remain at the top of the casual game charts, or if subsequent installments will repeat its success. Maybe this is a fluke. We don’t yet know what the life-cycle for this game will look like. Will it spike quickly and dive? Will it level off and maintain good numbers? Does the subscription model and the relatively low barrier to entry have more to do with this apparent success than the content itself? Maybe. But I believe that if you couple a quality brand with quality game design, then size truly doesn’t matter. Quality is the caveat I referred to earlier. In this case brand is king. Who wouldn’t want a game based on their favorite childhood heroine? Women are not idiots and it’s time we stop treating them as such. If the Nancy Drew series can sustain sales and remain atop the charts over the next few months, then maybe we should stop and listen. It’s not the size of the wand it’s the magic in the stick. In this case the magic is good old-fashioned story-telling and game design. Duh.

CASUAL CONNECTMAGAZINE

Vinny Carrella wrote and directed Bad Mojo, the 2004 Adventure Game of the Year and has writing and design credits on award-winning games such as Iron Helix and Space Bunnies Must Die! His debut novel, Serpent Box (Harper-Collins, Perennial) is due out in the Summer of 2007. He is currently a Producer/Designer at iWin.com and can be reached for comment at vinny@iwin.com

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Casual Connect Fall 2006